Religious across the U.S. are opening the doors of their homes, offering their testimonies and serving the downtrodden as they answer the Pope’s call to “wake up the world” to the joy of consecrated life.
The Year of Consecrated Life called for by Pope Francis started Nov. 30, the First Sunday of Advent, and runs through Feb. 2, 2016, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
“I am counting on you to ‘wake up the world,’ since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy,” the Pope said in a letter to religious for the Year of Consecrated Life. “This is the priority that is needed right now.”
The awakening, he explained, is for all Christians to live the Good News of salvation as a joyful, life-transforming event, which consecrated persons profoundly model by leaving everything to follow Christ.
“Radical evangelical living is not only for religious,” the Pope wrote. “It is demanded of everyone. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.”
The Year of Consecrated Life has three aims, the Pope continued: to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope.
Dioceses are collaborating with religious to bring those goals to life with the faithful.
As a member of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller is a religious himself and is elated about the special year, which his diocese has been planning for since it was announced a year ago.
“The people are ready, especially the congregations,” he said. “Each community is doing what they can to convey their mission. We should not waste time — we have a year of grace.”
All orders in the archdiocese were invited to the opening Mass for the year at San Fernando Cathedral, which was televised, the archbishop said, in order “to help more people connect with the year.”
This month, Catholic Television San Antonio will air the archbishop sharing his vocation story with members of 25 religious orders in the audience, and it will air monthly interviews with other religious in a new program called Wake Up the World! The Spanish-language radio station, Virgen de Guadalupe 1380 AM, will host weekly interviews with consecrated persons, and Today’s Catholic newspaper will feature different congregations, highlighting their histories and charisms, monthly throughout the year.
An archdiocesan map will show where orders are located, and the communities will offer “Days With Religious,” giving families and adults opportunities to glimpse consecrated life, said Sacred Heart of Jesus Sister Elizabeth Ann Vasquez, who is on the archdiocese’s Year of Consecrated Life planning committee. Campus ministers, she said, will offer a day of service projects for young people to carry out with religious.
“It’s energizing to take this year to say consecrated are a gift to the Church,” Sister Elizabeth said. “The Pope’s theme, ‘Wake Up the World,’ is waking up the world to the beauty of consecrated life.”
Next November, the archdiocese will host an assembly for Church leaders, during which all religious will be invited to renew their vows, Archbishop García-Siller said.
“There will be 4,000 or 5,000 people there,” he said. “It will be a good moment.”
The archbishop said his 39 years of life as a religious “have been very, very happy.”
“There isn’t one day that I have regretted being a religious,” he said.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis has more than 1,900 religious men and women from 85 different orders, said Religious Sister of Mercy Marysia Weber, director of consecrated life.
“St. Louis was founded by religious,” she said. “The first community in the archdiocese was St. Rose Philippine Duchesne’s (Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) in 1818. … The religious have had a powerful effect on the archdiocese; they opened the first schools and the first hospitals.”
The archdiocese is highlighting the history of its religious in videos for its website, which will also offer a catechetical blog about consecrated life and photos of and fun facts about religious.
Profiles of religious, young and veteran, as well as unique charisms and apostolic works, are being featured in issues of Catholic St. Louis magazine.
Starting in January, and going through the special year, religious communities will take turns throwing open their doors for a weekly open house so that the public can experience the various orders. Religious are also visiting schools to speak about consecrated life and are taking part in interfaith service projects for the civic community. Ferguson, Mo., which is still reeling from the August shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent unrest, is among those to benefit.
“There will be religious going into Ferguson to help with the rebuilding of physical structures and the healing of the people, to be available for prayerful support, to provide pastoral counseling and to bring materials that are needed,” Sister Weber said.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has the honor of hosting the Sept. 22-27 World Meeting of Families and a related visit from Pope Francis during the Year of Consecrated Life. The archdiocese is taking the opportunity to highlight religious life during World Meeting of Families events, including talks on vocations and discernment, a panel discussion by religious women and activities to help parents cultivate vocation discernment in their children.
“Families can be walking along and stop at the ‘Ask a Bishop’ booth, which is manned by bishops, and ask anything like, ‘How did you know you wanted to be a priest?” said Mary Beth Yount, director of content and programming for World Meeting of Families. “That should be really fun and can help foster vocations.”
The content for the World Meeting of Families is based on the preparatory catechesis, Love Is Our Mission, written by Yount, who is a mother and a theology professor, and nine other scholars. The family-friendly catechesis, published by Our Sunday Visitor, is available at WorldMeeting2015.org. One chapter focuses on marriage and consecrated life.
“But scattered throughout the preparatory catechesis, you will find tie-ins to consecrated life everywhere,” Yount said.
The biggest draw of the World Meeting of Families, which is being planned for up to 15,000 attendees, is Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit and likely the world’s best-known religious priest.
“It’s official: Pope Francis will celebrate the closing Mass!” Yount said.
The papal Mass at the 2012 World Meeting of Families in Milan drew 1 million people.
Events planned in the Archdiocese of Denver include men and women in religious formation giving their testimonies at colleges, an increase in the number of discernment activities offered and a series of public lectures next spring. The talks, on Vatican II’s Perfectae Caritatis, the decree on the renewal of religious life, will be given by Religious Sister of Mercy Esther Mary Nickel, a seminary professor of sacred theology.
The Year of Consecrated Life, noted Sister Esther, also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and its documents Perfectae Caritatis and Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the Church.
“We’ll go back and look at what the Second Vatican Council gave us,” she said. “For religious, it’s a call to wake up the world for joy. We are to be a witness to the hope and mercy of Christ.”
In Lumen Gentium, she added, the Council fathers recovered the Church’s universal call to holiness.
“Before the Council, many people thought priests and religious were called to holiness, but no one else. That was completely wrong,” Sister Esther said. “We are all called to holiness.”
The special year offers an opportunity for religious and laity to reflect on their individual vocations and shared call to holiness, Sister Esther said.
“St. Paul says we all have a part and a mission in this great body of Christ,” she said. “It’s important to ponder that and to work in collaboration with one another for the New Evangelization.”
Roxanne King writes from Denver.
A portion of this story previously ran in the Denver Catholic Register.